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Alex Green • Dec 27, 2013 at 3:40 PM

A rare white bird has been spotted several times over the past few weeks across Northern Ohio.

The snowy owl is most commonly found in arctic climates such as Alaska and Canada.

Recently, Erie County and Ottawa County have experienced what Mona Rutger called an “explosion” in the snowy owl population.

“There are not normally significant numbers,” said Rutger, who founded and runs the Castalia nonprofit Back to the Wild. “This year there is a huge number”

Rutger said the species of about 300,000 primarily hunts lemmings — small rodents that are also more popular in arctic regions.

When the lemming population is sparse for a large flock of snowy owls, the females and immatures are forced to find nourishment elsewhere. That’s what has brought the snowy owls — about 70 — to this area.    

“There was too much competition in a large population,” Rutger said. “They have been pushed out by older males”

Oak Harbor bird expert Kenn Kaufman also said this explosion is also a result of high lemming populations in other particular areas.

“Last summer there was a huge lemming population in Northern Quebec” Kaufman said. “When this happens, snowy owls tend to lay more eggs”

Kaufman said this is the biggest snowy owl population increase in Northern Ohio and on the East Coast since the 1940s.

These creatures generally hunt during the day, contrary to general perceptions about owls.

It is more likely to spot a snowy owl in an open field because fields more closely resemble the treeless arctic.

Rutger’s animal rehabilitation organization received two calls this year from people who spotted injured snowy owls.

One owl died of the effects of starvation shortly after being rescued by Back to the Wild; the other could not be located after being struck by a vehicle.

Rutger has successfully rehabilitated snowy owls in the past.

She said the snowy owl is the heaviest owl in North America. It is mostly white but can be seen with black markings on it.

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